Ric Swihart’s first thought when he walked into Lethbridge Exhibition Park last month was, “Where are the steers?”
A veteran agriculture reporter used to lugging his camera and notepad when attending 4-H events, Swihart can’t be blamed for his instinctive reaction.
But it was Swihart’s turn to share the limelight with the 4-Hers he covered so thoroughly in his 39-year career as agriculture reporter and editor with the Lethbridge Herald.
The Southern Alberta 4-H Region paid tribute to Swihart and Ian McDonald, agribusiness reporter and news anchor at Global TV Lethbridge, for their support.
Southern 4-H Region centennial celebration committe chairman Mark Sayer praised the two journalists for their support over the years.
“They have quietly gone about it without a lot of recognition,” Sayer said.
The celebration at Exhibition Park was part of the 100th anniversary of Canada’s 4-H organizations.
“I was overwhelmed,” said Swihart, who grew up in Fort Macleod and got his start in journalism first with a paper route for The Macleod Gazette and later as a reporter.
“The nice part of doing work like that is it’s enjoyable at the time. You never do it for recognition. You do it because you enjoy it and you do it because it’s so important to a community.”
Swihart was as green as some of the crops he would later write about when he started working at the Lethbridge Herald. The only experience he had with agriculture was working on his grandparents’ farm in Saskatchewan during the summer.
“One of the first things that started arriving on my desk was reports from 4-H club reporters. That was my first real introduction to the concept of 4-H.”
Swihart recalled attending the first of what would be many 4-H achievement days in his first year on the agriculture beat.
At that time Lethbridge had the largest 4-H achievement day in Canada Exhibition Park, actually housing the 4-Hers.
“That’s where I got my feet wet with the whole concept of how family-oriented 4-H is, the fact that it’s more than just showing a steer.”
Swihart quickly learned that family involvement goes from the young 4-Hers to their parents who become leaders, and even the grandparents who offer support.
The young reporter also learned that 4-H was about more than just showing that steer. 4-Hers learn public speaking, record keeping, parliamentary procedures and other skills that will serve them well their entire lives.
“I’ve had many, many people tell me when they get into hiring positions in companies when the resumes start pouring in and one or two with 4-H pop up they get moved to the top five.”
Swihart was taken with the strength of the 4-H community that instilled the concepts of teamwork, co-operation and respect in the members.
The discipline required of the 4-Hers to undertake a project from start to finish was another aspect Swihart liked.
“Whoever laid out the overall concept of 4-H had to be a genius,” Swihart said.
Swihart soon found himself taking an active role in 4-H as a judge for public speaking and even organizing a training session for club reporters.
“I enjoyed myself immensely when I got involved in 4-H.”
Sayer said the value of Swihart’s work as a journalist cannot be overstated.
“He was passionate about his job and that came through in his work,” Sayer said.
Swihart, who retired two years ago and is an honourary member of the Alberta Institutes of Agrologists and a lifetime member of the Alberta Farm Writers Association, is convinced 4-H will always be around.
“There are no negatives in 4-H. The positives will grow in the amount you contribute.”